I clearly remember the day it happened. We had a only a few year prior moved to South Australia from the communist eastern block Europe in the hope of finding a culturally aware western world. The news report on television that evening would bring to question those hopes as we watched a scene that would haunt my dreams that night and in the coming years. Little did we know or understand about the situation, but the grainy video from an innocent bystander of four white police officers brutally beating Rodney King reminded my parents all too much of the place they had tried to escape.
A little more than a year later, the Los Angeles riots of April 1992 erupted following the acquittal of the four LAPD officers in the video tape. The riots had a devastating affect on the city with 53 people dead, 2,500 injured, over $2b in damage from some 3,600 fires and the destruction of more than 1,200 buildings. 4,000 national guard troops were called in to quell the unrest and enforce the law. It seemed that everyone in the US and certainly everyone and all of LA was affected, all that is except for LA’s McDonald’s restaurants.
McDonald restaurants were located in the heart of all that destruction but it seemed miraculously untouched by violence. This is particularly unusual when considering that the bulk, or 94%, of the buildings destroyed were commercial and of those 74% were retail stores owned by African American, Korean and other members of the community. So it is indeed quite remarkable that no McDonald’s stores were damaged, so remarkable in fact that Time magazine ran a special report on the peculiarity:
‘When the smoke cleared after the mobs burned through South Central Los Angeles in April, hundreds of businesses, many of them black owned, had been destroyed. Yet not a single McDonald’s restaurant had been torched.’
Edwin M. Reingold, June 29, 1992, TIME
The saving grace for McDonald’s was the broader impact of its diversity policies that the same article praised; ‘McDonalds stands out not only as one of the more socially responsible companies in America, but also as one of the nation’s few truly effective social engineers’.
McDonald’s diversity strategy was created to facilitate growth in specific at home ‘foreign’ markets and had inadvertently proven to be it’s saving grace in times of social turmoil. This is more of a testament to the incredible value of a diversity policy than necessarily the foresight of McDonald’s; who continue today to champion the case for diversity.